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PacNet #64 – Is America listening to its East Asian Allies?

For all the recent attention on increasing tensions between the US, China, and East Asian countries, regional balance of power dynamics remain muted. The past few years have seen increased Chinese assertiveness, which has led many to expect that East Asian states will flock to the side of the US. This has not proven to be the case, however, and Hugh White’s thoughtful and bold new book, The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power, provides some clues as to why not. White argues that neither China nor America "can hope to win a competition for primacy outright, so both would be best served by playing for a compromise." He concludes that the best policy would be an explicit "Concert of Asia" in which the US and China agree to treat each other as equals and create two clear spheres of influence. White is probably right that a US balancing strategy in East Asia is unlikely to succeed – yet a concert of Asia with two clearly defined spheres of influence would appear fairly similar in the eyes of East Asian states. East Asian countries are seeking a pathway that avoids taking sides, and the best approach for the US is a strategy that helps them achieve that goal.